Woolworths role for Corbett still in doubt

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Gerald Corbett's future as chairman of Woolworths hung in the balance last night after a series of meetings were called to decide his fate.

The final meeting yesterday afternoon included Sir Geoff Mulcahy and Sir John Banham, chief executive and chairman respectively of Kingfisher, Woolworths parent company. Though not a full board meeting it included some members of the Kingfisher board and some of the new non-executive directors of Woolworths. Mr Corbett did not attend. Kingfisher did not issue a statement last night although one is expected today.

The situation has been complicated by a split in the Kingfisher board. Sir Geoff Mulcahy is believed to want Mr Corbett out following recent criticism of his performance at Railtrack and his £13m pay-off. But Sir John Banham has publicly backed Mr Corbett. And over the weekend two of the new non-executive directors of Woolworths, said they would quit if Mr Corbett is ousted. Jonathan Fry, former chairman of Burmah Castrol, said he informed Sir John a month ago that his appointment was conditional on Mr Corbett remaining as Woolworths chairman when the company is demerged from Kingfisher later this month. Prue Leith, the high profile cook and restaurateur, said Kingfisher would stand by the man they have chosen.

To comply with accounting rules the listing must go ahead by early August or be postponed until next spring.